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December 4, 2017

Uphill at Alpental: Last Call

With rumors of an Alpental opening later this week, the handwriting was on the wall. Either get out in the next couple of days, or put it on hold until after the season.

Patrick, Silas and I decided that a clearing trend on Monday was enough reason to go, and headed out toward Pineapple Pass in ideal skinning weather. We looked for signs of a Crispin & Geeb trail up through Big Trees but didn't find one, and joined up briefly with a crew of 3 headed in the same general direction. A thin layer of dry snow on top of the weekend's hardpack made traction a little tenuous at times, but spirits were high and the turns off the top of Pineapple were worth the effort.

Crazy cool light off the boulders in Pineapple Basin, not Photoshopped . . .

Patrick goes deep for his first tracks in the Alpy BC

Silas enjoys "boottop plus" conditions

November 26, 2017

It's ON

We're in a Pineapple Interlude for the moment, but not before many of the ski areas in the Northwest were able to open and pow turns were had.

The first rain and melt phase of the season is drawing to a close, and flakes are starting to fall again. The craziness of Black Friday at the store is past with new sales records set and it was time to get the 2018 quiver in shape. First up were another pair of Zero G 108's with Atomic Backland bindings, then came a pair of Rustler 10's with Kingpins as my "all mountain" setup. The mounts went smoothly and the tuning and waxing are underway as we speak.

Not too early to introduce my tiny apprentice to the art of ski maintenance . . .

November 6, 2017

Pre-season Appetizers

Winter is starting to settle in, as evidenced by the lingering cold in the shadows and the fluffy 18" of fresh snow on the ground at Crystal.

Monday was the first clear day after several days of on-again, off-again snow and the crew was itching to get out. We stopped off at the Enumclaw Safeway to talk car pool strategy, and the skier scene was in full force - early mid-week is the time when the serious ski bums and pros head out to get the goods. The "A" lot at Crystal was half full when we arrived at around 9:10, with the stoke level high as people put on boots and applied skins.

The skies were blue-ish and skiing was excellent as long as you stuck to relatively low angle slopes and didn't edge too hard. The Soul Wiggle had it all over real turns, and we figured out the best way to preserve the bases for another day in short order. Crispin and I did two laps of Forest Queen, while Silas felt obliged to work the crowd at the base area for a while after run #1. Crews of good friends and ski partners were seen throughout the day, with Don D., David B., Eric R., Drew T., Seth W., Joe H., Carl and Tara S., Bob G. and a host of others in attendance. The Crystal crews were busy grooming and putting the finishing touches on the new snowmaking system, and word from the top (John K.) has it they are shooting for a Friday "soft" opening. Stay tuned.

Skinned straight up the stairs . . .

Crispin likes the deep stuff, while Geeb sticks to the groomed

18" of blower over sharks; Crispin pulls up after hitting one

October 16, 2017

Before the Deluge

October was half over and the clock was ticking. With today being the last forecasted nice day before a week of rain and rising temperatures, we decided to make some turns on Rainier while the getting was good.

Our mini-crew consisted of Silas, Zack and myself. DOD and Alicia waited patiently at the Paradise lot for our arrival, and texted some key advice (like watch out for that black ice above Longmire). We skinned from the car in what turned out to be perfect conditions - brilliant sun and temps in the high 40's. Turnaround was at 8,530 ft. when the whipping wind and firming crust started to dampen our spirits. And the skiing? The hooky crust turned to carvable semi-frozen corn soon enough, and we managed to ski to the parking lot with a few strategic carries. Silas, insisting the the Pan Point face was skiable (he had done it on Saturday), succeeded in ripping out a two-foot section of edge, but barely felt it and remained upright, so all turned out well.

Pan Point Basin Minefield needs a couple more feet

A biting wind meant no lollygagging around at transition time

Silas in full flight showing his "instructor form" with Zack in back

Parking lot refreshments - perhaps you saw us on the Paradise webcam?

September 21, 2017

Opening Day: Pow and Sun

Silas was back from Europe and itching to get his 240th consecutive month of skiing in. After three days of on-again-off-again snowfall on Mt. Rainier, Thursday seemed ripe for the picking. We met up with Mark and David for the usual Muir snowfield September pilgrimage, and lo and behold excellent skiing happened.

Silas stomps the uphill

Mark enjoys the best September turns ever

Too bony to ski, Pan Point traverse offered a great view of the mountain   Mark Kroese photo

July 10, 2017

Milking the Cow

Silas had been in his usual July frenzy, working the Cowlitz glacier for all it was worth this past week. The usual array of partners came and went, and the skiing had been excellent. I managed to sneak out on Monday to join in the fun, and we headed up from Fourth Crossing at a rather late and relaxed hour. Silas had promised we could be skinning within 100 yards of the car, but it turned out to be more like 100 feet, as long as you didn't mind a little vegetation in the mix. Skiing turned out to be superlative, with an inch or two of fast and smooth corn running all the way from 8,200 feet to the base of the glacier.

Silas skied the line down the gut of the Cowlitz (Cowgutz?) twice in the past three days

The Wild Man of the Cowlitz emerges from the mist

June 10, 2017

Mountain Bike Week in Hood River

After years of coaxing on the part of my friends Francine and Kevin, I took up the sport of mountain biking a couple seasons ago, borrowing Kevin's spare bike and beating myself into shape by following them around on the trail. Like most sports, the lessons tend to stick best when you apply yourself over the course of several days, and I made big strides last year when I spent 5 days in Hood River with the Curds and mutual friends. This year I went back for more and Hood River proved even more rewarding.

The cooler and wetter spring meant less wear on the trails and less dust, and temperatures in the mid-eighties made for perfect riding in short sleeves - last year had been over 100 F. most days, which takes it out of you. We did a variety of trails this year, with one rest day (massages in town) when it was raining heavily, but found well-maintained trails everywhere in Post Canyon and saw very few other riders. We did several rides starting out at the Family Man staging area, warming up with Eight Track and Spaghetti Factory, and throwing in loops in part of the Mitchell Ridge trail one day and the bottom part of Dirt Surfer another.

One day was devoted to the Washington side of the river, where we rode the Hospital Hill loop on private property. The trail is "old school," meaning pretty narrow (watch those uphill pedals) and technical, with no bermed corners and some super tight steep turns on the descent. Fortunately, my bike handling skills are improved from last year and I managed to keep the rubber side down except for one dab directly on a stand of poison oak (washed off before any harm was done). Highlights were a spectacular view of the Columbia River from the top, and a nice chat with a working rancher and his dogs herding cattle as we climbed.

Our last ride was a loop of the Whoopdee Trail, also on private timber land, but super well maintained and seemingly popular with the locals. We rode this the day after the rains, and actually caught a good shower on the way up to the parking area, but the dirt was in perfect condition. We wandered a bit off the route for half a mile or so, but figured out the right direction after watching a super fit local woman stomping a jeep road climb out of the saddle and figuring she knew where she was going.

When you've got a town full of world-class and full-time wind freaks, mountain bike hardcores, and assorted outdoor industry types (half of our ski reps seem to call Hood River home), fueling the human machine becomes a sport as well. You can't go more than half a block in either the lower or upper part of town without finding a world-class coffee shop, brewpub, or excellent ethnic restaurant. Some of my favorites included Dirty Fingers for coffee with a bike back, Stoked for iced Americanos and kite boarding action, Lake Tacos for homemade-to-order Carne Asada tacos, and Pho River for Viet-Thai fusion cooking (the cooks from the old standby Thai House apparently ended up here). Burn some calories and fill 'er up again was the rule of the day.

Hanging out with Kevin in front of the local bikeshop/coffeeshop/bar "Dirty Fingers"   Tom Davies photo

Letting it flow toward the bottom of the Whoopdee Trail   Kevin Curd photo

Francine all smiles finishing out the Mitchell Ridge descent

Kevin on top of Hospital Hill

From tiny acorns, these oak trees grew. We rode through them on the Whoopdee climb.   Kevin Curd photo

April 18, 2017

On the Bench

Yes, this week it's Neil Gorsuch and the Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD.

The boot that everyone's been talking about this spring is here in the shop. The Hawx Ultra XTD is a 130 flex, all-Grilamid beef touring boot without the lard. At 1406 grams in a 26.5, the XTD is lighter than any of the "power" touring boots we've seen to date. Lighter than the MTN Lab (1550 grams), lighter than the Zero G Guide Pro (1508 grams), and lighter than the old benchmark carbon-cuffed Vulcan (1560 grams), the XTD was rumored to be ultra stiff, though a bit "blocky" in flex. I was anxious to see how this new boot stacks up against the competition, and jumped on the opportunity to test it when our Atomic rep offered a pair.

The 26.5 Hawx Ultra XTD makes weight like nothing else in the class

I'll start by talking about the fit of the XTD. Atomic says they use the same last as the regular Hawx Ultra boots, which features a 98mm forefoot, relatively tall instep, and average heel pocket. The XTD, which uses the same last, feels both roomier and longer, which I put down to the use of an ultra low volume liner (not that much different from the production Backland Carbon liner). Don't pay too much attention to the nominal "narrow" last numbers, because this boot has plenty of volume for most average to slightly wider than average feet, and Atomic's Memory Fit heat customization process will likely make it fit the majority of feet without the need for a master bootfitter.

For reference, I have a wide 104mm foot with substantial bunions at both the 1st and 5th metatarsal heads (total width is ~112mm counting bunions), an average instep height, and a wide medial midfoot. I also measure out at 27.6 on a Brannock device, so the 26.5 Ultra XTD is not a “natural” fit. When first putting the boot on, I had some trouble getting my foot past the bend in the midfoot, as the shell diameter is quite snug at the base of ankle and the Grilamid very stiff. Most people will find it helpful to pull the shell wider as they pull the boot on, and those with tall insteps may find it fairly difficult to put on. If you're seriously in the market for this boot, however, "easy to put on" is probably not that high on the list of requirements, as you only do this once a day. For the record, my 26.5 Ultra XTD's have a boot sole length of 302mm, right in between the Salomon MTN Lab (301mm) and the Tecnica Zero G Guide Pro (305mm) and Lange XT Freetour (306mm), so fortunately all of my bindings will fit without re-drilling.

I have a long history of making narrow lasted boots fit my foot, and the Hawx Ultra XTD was good raw material. Both the shell and cuff are Grilamid, which is one of my favorite ski boot plastics to punch, and the XTD mods went smoothly. With a punch on each side for the 1st met head, 5th met head, 5th phalanges and one for the medial malleolus on the left side, the boots fit like a glove without resorting to using the oven. For people with only slight width conflicts, the Memory Fit heat customization method should be adequate – our rep suggested baking the shells with liners out for 5-7 minutes at around 240 degrees Fahrenheit and putting the liners on the heat stacks at the same time. My end results were super comfortable before I even skied in the boot, and I was able to use my “thick” custom posted footbeds immediately (normally I use a thinner footbed for 4-6 days until the liner packs out). I’m also using the second and third buckle notches over the forefoot already, so those with wider feet (and access to a good bootfitter) shouldn’t dismiss this boot without trying it on first. For the record, I didn't need to widen the midfoot area (under the medial malleolus, just to the rear of the navicular) on the XTD, whereas both the Zero G Guide Pro and MTN Lab needed a fair amount of work.

Skinning in the boot is very good, with excellent forward range of motion and decent rearward range, and super smooth action due to the same sort of cuff pivots used in the Backland series boots. Atomic literature lists a 54 degree total range, but that’s probably with the liner out and no foot in the boot. In reality, the rearward movement is cut short by the snug fit around the ankle, with the bend in the lower shell being the limiting factor rather than the walk mode hardware. Someone with a thin ankle structure and low instep will likely find the rearward range of motion better, but for average length strides on the skintrack the boot tours very well. Buyers will want to make sure they fully loosen both upper buckles and the power strap for skinning, as range of motion suffers if you leave it partially buckled.

Walk mode lever appears the same as that used on the Backland boots; unscrew the lever and flip the metal retention clip to go from 15 to 17 degrees

Atomic claims a 54 degree range of motion but you'll have trouble using it all

In ski mode, the Ultra XTD is closer to a traditional 130 flex than other boots in the class, notably the Lange XT Freetour, Tecnica Zero G Guide Pro, and Salomon MTN Lab. Compared to my 130 flex “lift-served” boots – Lange RS 130 and Tecnica Mach 1 LV 130 – I’d rate them at a solid 125. While some other testers have reported the flex as “blocky” and “not progressive,” I found them quite predictable, which is the most important characteristic in my book. Let's say they are progressive, but with a smaller "progression window" than some of the competition. They are stiff enough to be confidence-inspiring in sticky spring slop, and engage more quickly under pressure than any of the three boots I just mentioned, but not in a negative way. To be fair, I’ve tried the XTD on in the shop in a 27.5 and 28.5 as well, and both of these felt uncomfortably stiff while also putting a lot of pressure on my lower shin between the two upper buckles, while the 26.5 flexes nicely on my foot, so it’s possible that a snug fit around the ankle is key. The production liner with the thicker, stiffer tongue may also change things.

You feel the stiffness in other ways, too. I normally de-skin without removing my skis, following the late Stéphane Brosse's edict, "chaussure, fix, peau (boot, binding, skin)" - but the Ultra XTD is stiff enough that locking the walk mode lever makes it nearly impossible to reach and twist my heelpieces. With the XTD I've decided it's better practice to leave the boot adjustment to last. With the cuff left unlocked, it's a relatively simple matter to reach around and twist the heels before stomping in and removing the skin. Since preparing the boot for skiing also involves buckling the two top buckles and tightening the power strap, as well as pulling up and re-fitting your pant cuff, it's not the simple flowing set of movements rando racers strive for anyway.

I haven’t yet had the chance to put a lot of downhill miles on this boot, or try to drive one of my bigger freeride skis with it, but I’ll add to this review once I do. Fortunately the lifts at Alpental continue to spin on the weekends, so it’ll be convenient to put in some mileage - Cinco de Mayo, anyone? The XTD comes standard with a 15 degree forward lean, and what feels like about a 5 degree interior ramp angle, and it works well for me. For background, I normally would ski in a Lange alpine boot with the World Cup shims in and shoved well down, looking for about a 14.5 degree angle. People who prefer a more upright stance are out of luck at present; the other option is 17 degrees currently on the XTD, though they may engineer in a more upright solution (13 degrees?) in the future.

Grindable 6mm thick bootboard plus the relatively roomy instep is good news for high instep feet

Atomic would do well to add a cinch type power strap with a “quick release” string (think Dynafit or Arc’teryx). This would simplify transitions and reduce the need to de-glove. The toe buckle is awkwardly placed and protrudes quite a ways from the shell; it’s just asking to be torn off or bent while walking through talus (and even got flipped open while de-skinning by my skins). A lower profile buckle or a flipped buckle that fastens on top of the toe may be in order, and buckles that lock in the forward position would be nice for the two cuff buckles. The top two buckle bales could use a smaller radius curvature, as they don't conform well to the shape of the ankle. I think the slightly burlier liner promised by Atomic will be an improvement in terms of comfort and will fit more like people expect a 98mm lasted boot to fit out of the box. The thin liner in the prototype relaxes the fit and tends to slip down as you put the boot on (the liner has little structural rigidity) and out when you exit the boot. Unfortunately this will also add weight, but thickening liners for comfort and performance is common as manufacturers move from skiable protypes to final production models. As with other top boots in this class, Atomic chose to use certified Dynafit toe and heel fittings, which (along with the ubiquitous use of Grilamid in touring boots) is a welcome trend.

Thin Grilamid walls on both the shell and cuff make for an extremely light boot

The bigger question is where the Hawx Ultra XTD fits into your (or my) skiing scheme. In terms of weight alone, it slips in between most of the existing “power” touring boots and the “light is right” boots. In terms of skiability, it competes squarely with many 120 flex alpine boots. So is it a “do it all” crossover boot or a touring boot? Should you buy it with the aim of doing ALL your skiing in it?

This season I felt I’d reached the lightness limit for my lift-served boot with the 1508 gram Zero G Guide Pro. There were a few times during the season when I felt I could have pushed it harder (or felt more secure doing it) in a heavier boot. The Ultra XTD is 100 grams lighter, and the question is whether the slightly stiffer and quicker-to-engage XTD will be suitable for the bigger skis in my alpine quiver. My gut feeling is that smaller skiers who prefer skis under 110mm in the waist and spend most of their time in softer snow conditions may be fine using it as their only boot, perhaps with two dedicated ski setups (alpine and touring). Larger skiers, freeride competitors, and those pushing the limits of how fast a given slope can be skied may find it comes up a bit short in terms of both weight, dampness and stiffness. Time will tell.

A lot of people who've tried the Ultra XTD are comparing it favorably with the Dynafit Vulcan and Mercury boots, previously some of the stiffest freeride touring boots available. The flex of the Vulcan/Mercury was definitely on the harsh side, and I ended up cutting a "V" in the tongues of these boots to soften the initial flex. The Vulcan also combined a very tall and roomy toe box with an unnaturally low and tight instep, which resulted in a lot of users heat molding the shells (even though it's not technically an oven moldable boot) or switching to another liner with less material over the instep (typically an Intuition Power Wrap). Even so, plenty of people are on their second or third pair of these boots. The Hawx Ultra XTD will fit many more feet right out of the box, and the narrower forefoot width can be altered by baking the shells. The inconsistent height over the forefoot and instep will be gone. The XTD skis better for me, with a more predictable and progressive feel than the Vulcan through the flex pattern but with similar resistance when fully flexed. Skinning is not quite as good as the Vulcan or Mercury, primarily due to less rearward range of motion, but the action is smoother and under most normal touring conditions the slightly reduced rearward range won't be noticed. Plus the XTD is around 150 grams lighter. As a “power touring” boot, I think the Hawx Ultra XTD will be extremely popular in its inaugural season, right in there with the MTN Lab and the new Scarpa Maestrale RS 2.0, and that’s how I intend to use it. Whether I can or want to drive a burly, 118mm ski with the XTD remains to be seen, but in the meantime I plan to spend a fair amount of time in the Ultra XTD and tip my hat to Matt Manser and the wizards in Atomic's Altenmarkt boot lab for pushing the envelope to new dimensions.

Note: If you're looking for a boot that works in tech bindings, alpine bindings, and any of the current popular demo bindings (I need such a boot for demo purposes, but most people won't), the Hawx Ultra XTD will work with most, but not all. The soles are rockered WTR and non-replaceable, so pure alpine ISO 9462 clamps won't work (like your old P18's), nor will the current Marker Griffon demo units, which only accept ISO 5355 or GripWalk soles. The decision on whether or not to use replaceable soles is a tough one for boot designers (it adds weight) and Atomic chose to go with the lightest option that would work for the vast majority of bindings. If you want to set up a bigger alpine ski with non-touring bindings for this boot, you'll have to choose from either a Salomon/Atomic MNC or WTR model, a Marker Sole.ID binding (Squire will be included next season), one of the Look WTR offerings, or the Tyrolia AAAttack 14 AT. Kingpin users and those who feel a need to use frame AT bindings are in luck, as the WTR soles have full ISO 9523 lug depth at the toe and heel.

June 2017 Update:

A few more touring days on the Hawx Ultra XTD convinced me that the toe buckle coming undone while booting was going to be a PITA. I modified it by removing the buckle, cutting off the forward part with bolt cutters and smoothing the edge with a belt sander. I also ground out "hollows" where the buckle contacted the steel base, allowing it to sit a few millimeters lower (see photos). A little experimentation showed that the boot skied with plenty of power when the power strap was totally loose (plus not having to tighten and loosen it when transitioning was way easier), so I removed the strap entirely. Even without the beefy 45mm strap, the Ultra XTD feels stiffer than any of the other "crossover" boots in my collection, and the weight with stock insole drops to 1348 grams per boot. That's pretty impressive - not that long ago touring boots in the 1800 gram range that skied like galoshes were considered pretty cool, and a 130 flex alpine boot was often in the 2300 to 2400 gram range. Taking the power strap off looks simple, as it's affixed to the cuff with normal enough 3mm tab-back fittings like those used to hold buckle ladders on the cuff straps. Atomic seems to have used some industrial-strength Loc-tite on the threads, however, and it's very difficult not to spin the screw backs while attempting to loosen the screws. I ended up drilling them out to remove the straps, though it shouldn't be hard to locate replacements should you want to re-install them.

(Atomic has assured me via email that while the specs for the shells are pretty much locked in, the liners will be modified for the production boot to address some of the problems I've noted. The liners will be slightly thicker to more closely match the fit of the alpine Hawx Ultra boots, and the tongue will include beefier reinforcement to better distribute pressure over the shin. Also, there will be stiffer material used in the liner sole to keep the liner from bunching up as you remove your foot. This will naturally bring the weight up a bit, Atomic quotes the production weight of a 26.5 as 1420 grams)

Snip off the outer aluminum frame and grind flat, and dremel some divots in the steel baseplate to lower the toe buckle profile

Toe buckle on the left used to look like #2 buckle on the right

Fat conditions at the Naches testing grounds on June 17th

April 9, 2017

Sliders Reunion 2017

This year's Sunnyside Slider on-snow event was scheduled a bit earlier than usual due to family conflicts. Even so, a record number of key members found themselves unable to attend, with several injuries keeping people away from the hill and absentees emailing in regrets from places as diverse as Canada, Switzerland and the Amazon (not the one in South Lake Union).

Four to eight inches of fresh snow of varying quality covered anything from punchy frozen corn to bulletproof ice depending on where you happened to be skiing, with higher north-facing slopes skiing quite well for the most part. This is always a great gathering of the tribe, and an opportunity to talk former greatness in the context of current reality. One welcome addition was the presence of several grandchildren of original members, a sure sign that time waits for no one.

Old friends keeping it real

Something Old, Something New - this year's staged group shot is a good one

Betsy and Steve Backstrom rocking "Brain Damage" - it's not hard to see where the kids get it!

March 15, 2017

Boots: Procline Update

A pair of Arc'teryx's Procline Support AT boots showed up last month for testing.

This is the non-carbon cuff version, with the heavier and reportedly "better skiing" Support Liner. In a 27.5, they weigh in at 1281 grams (1308 with my super thin cork posted footbeds in place). After 6-7 punches on each boot (small silver dots indicate punch zones), they fit like a glove and were ready to test. Kitchen impressions: insane range of motion in touring mode, more progressive flex than I would suspect, flex index ~90. Since the pass was on lockdown for accidents and tow trucks after I finished my morning chores, I was forced to wait until the next weekend at Whistler to try them on snow.

I spent a day skiing the superlative groomers at Blackcomb on the Proclines, pairing them with my Blizzard Zero G 108's mounted with Dynafit Speed Radicals. The conditions were great, perfectly groomed with about 2 inches of fresh over the top, around 25 degrees Fahrenheit. The boots are relatively soft (I normally ski this setup with Salomon MTN Labs) and the Zero G 108 is no pussycat, but once I had a few thousand vertical feet on them I got the hang of it. Still, the Procline Series is probably better suited to a narrower and lighter ski that initiates turns with less effort. The other factor that required some adjustment was the stance - I felt that both the forward lean and the internal ramp at the bootboard were more than I usually prefer, putting me in a "tiptoe" position. It will be interesting to try the boot with some other bindings that feature less ramp (the Speed Radicals have just over 14mm difference between the toe pins and the heel pins).

Today I took the Proclines on a wet weather tour of Hyak. As expected, they are a revelation on the skintrack, with better articulation and a smoother skinning action than pretty much anything else in the business. If I was planning on a trip that involved big distances one of the Arc'teryx boots would surely be a top contender. If I can iron out the stance issue, possibly with a minimally ramped race binding, this may be perfect for long spring and summer tours with lengthy approaches. Stay tuned.

My pair of Proclines showed up at last, loving the stealth black and grey colorway.

February 20, 2017

WWSRA 2017: Road Testing In Oregon

We spent three days last week in Bend, Oregon, decompressing from a hard season of non-stop bootfitting and testing some of next season's product.

The drive to Bend always seems to take longer than it should. In our case, the trip was prolonged by slow Valentine's Day service at Try My Thai in Sandy, though the wide noodles with chicken and excellent curries made it worthwhile. On the return trip, it was to be a freeway-width landslide near Woodland, WA that required a 35 minute detour through the countryside. Oh well. We made it in time to check in to a house owned by evo team rider Austin Smith and have a few beers and a yogurt before hitting the sheets. When we woke on Wednesday to driving rain and 50 MPH wind gusts, I suspected the upcoming testing sessions might be a bit abbreviated, but we headed up to Batchelor in time for the opening bell.

The rain-soaked corn groomers with a bit of sheet ice poking through on the ridges actually proved to be a decent testing venue. I stuck to my usual, convenient line off the Pine Marten chair, putting each ski through its paces with short, medium and long radius turns and a final straightline stability test. Thanks to a fresh set of Gore-Tex outerwear, I managed to stay dry the entire day, while the gusty winds at the top of each run made the huge raindrops run horizontally off my goggle lenses. Though I stopped trying to take notes in the rain due to illegible streaking and sticking pages, skiing three skis in a row and then stopping in the lodge to record my impressions seemed to work well. With many shop owners and employees hanging out under cover, there was no wait to try next year's "hot" skis and I was in my element. Here's some of the Day 1 highlights.

Armada's new Tracer line of lighter freeride skis is a winner. The Tracer 98 owes its heritage and Karuba core to the soon-to-exit KUFO, and it's a great replacement. Nimble and easy to turn, it holds a clean line in medium radius turns and has surprisingly good stability at speed. The Tracer 118 is another standout, extremely maneuverable for a wider pow shape, and very balanced from tip to tail. The sweet spot is huge, and the 118 should be a tremendous powder tool in trees and tight spaces.

The ski of the day for me was the Elan Ripstick 106, which I'd been hearing about from several quarters since last spring. When you find a ski that turns seamlessly at all speeds, reacts instantly without thinking about it, and requires no adjustment of line or technique, you know the designers have hit on something good. The Ripstick 106 is that good. On the touring side, the Faction Prime 2.0 skied well, initiating the turn snappily but without any hint of hookiness to finish the turn. It should be a solid choice for backcountry skiers who favor steep, controlled short radius turns.

I found a few skis that I considered just about perfect in each width category, and the Ripstick 106 (blue with yellow) was one of them.

The temperatures dropped overnight on Wednesday, and 6-8 inches of thick wind deposit fell over the corn, producing at least three super fun untracked laps before the crowds hit. Even afterward, the chop skied well and allowed the wider skis to get a realistic workout. I started out with the limited edition Rossignol Black Ops, which was insanely good. Much like a slightly heavier, damper Gunsmoke, the Black Ops was the perfect size for me (one size only, 186) and had the semi-twin shape to slarve at will but still railed hard turns when needed. I moved on to the Black Crows Nocta, at 122 millimeters wider than I usually need in a powder ski, and was blown away. Power, balance and responsiveness were all in perfect proportion in the Nocta, and it even inspired confidence on the icy ridgeline leading into the trees. The redesigned Black Crows Atris (slightly burlier build, longer 20 meter radius) is even better than last year's version which I liked a lot, with more power and an uncanny feeling of precision. G3 is introducing a more freeride-oriented line of skis to complement the FINDr group, and the new SENDr 112 offered smooth and effortless turns and plenty of flotation for those favoring a surfy feel.

Pretty much everything in the Black Crows lineup is skiing great, for me the Atris and Nocta were +++ highlights

The ski of the day (Day 2) in the ultra-competitive 106mm class was without a doubt the new Dynastar Legend 106. I was a big fan of the Legend Pro Series skis, and had ambivalent feelings about the Cham skis, but if the Legend 106 is an indication of what's to come I'm stoked. With perfect tip to tail balance and instantaneous response at any speed, this is a ski that will appeal equally to everyone from advanced intermediates to full blown experts. Lots of other testers agreed.

The new Scarpa Alien RS is a race boot design that's been hitting the gym; it promises to deliver light and fast all-purpose touring muscle

The Blizzard Rustler 11 may or may not take the place of my go-to Gunsmokes. It's more powerful and damper than the 'Smoke but lacks the pop and easy, on-demand smearability. It promises to be a better hard snow ski, and seems to already be successful as a Euro-comp ride, but it definitely falls more on the Cochise/Bonafide side of the performance equation. The new 192 Spur, on the other hand, was a huge and welcome surprise. Whereas the current Spur is balky at slower speeds and transmits more shock from hard snow than desireable, the new design turns readily at any speed and is much, much damper. Though they look enormous on your feet, they don't feel any larger than many 185's. Also, the new graphic scheme is the sickest 2018 look on the market.

The new Spur (far left) is a revelation - easy to turn (in a 192, no less) at all speeds and damper than the current model

February 18, 2017

Shiffrin Crushes

It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of US Team skier Mikaela Shiffrin. Backcountry, slackcountry, telemark or snowboarder, anyone who values the act of sliding on snow can learn a few things by watching this woman ski.

At the recently concluded FIS World Championships, where Mikaela decided to skip the Super G and Combined events to concentrate on slalom and giant slalom, it was obvious that she had turned the volume up a notch in the GS, where she was narrowly beaten by French star Tessa Worley.

When it came time for her specialty, the slalom, it was obvious that Shiffrin was out to prove something. After a superb first run, after which she led by .38 of a second, she puts it all together in the second to absolutely light up the course and win by a combined time of 1.64 seconds. At the Worlds, when only the top three places really count and every racer is skiing flat-out, that kind of margin is monumental. Eleven gates into run 2, you can tell she's on a mission and taking it to a new level as she lays waste to the flush, bam, bam, bam. Take a few seconds to witness genius - the balance, the fire, the cleanliness of line - and bear with the German commentary, though it's probably the most appreciative and knowledgeable in the business. At any rate, "Ayy-yay-yay" and "Wow" are the same in any language.

February 13, 2017

Tabke Tops in Andorra

Seattle legend and sometime co-worker Drew Tabke was money in the first Freeride World Tour event of the season, held in Vallnord-Arcalis, Andorra. Drew's typically flowing and creative skiing put him in the lead with a solid score of 95.0 points, and none of the riders who followed was able to top it. Maybe you've seen Drew in action at Crystal Mountain (or even been coached by him), but check out his superior style across the pond here:

Drew's winning run in Andorra is classic Tabke

January 23, 2017

Scratching In the New Year

Happy to report that I've survived the holiday season and things at the shop are back to a manageable but still busy level. We've sold an unprecedented amount of ski gear with a big portion of that being "backcountry" oriented. Most of the growth is in the "crossover" segment, meaning people are asking for setups that will work both in and out of bounds with touring "potential," but there's also a huge leap in public awareness about touring-specific gear. Good? Bad? I'm a bit ambivalent myself, but it's definitely the way the industry is moving.

Meanwhile, the Pacific Northwest seems to have "weathered" the rain event of last week without too much damage to the snowpack. Kevin (glad to be back in action after an enforced injury-related rest) and I inspected the goods around the pass today and found widely varying amounts of wind-affected fresh over a sheet of ice (I seriously had to dig down a few times to make sure my pole wasn't hitting rock on the skin up). This resulted in smooth turns when you picked the right aspect, but grinding ice in the apex of each turn when the soft layer was thin.

Kevin finds a clean line despite the Pineapple effect from last week

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